Child Custody Battles in Arizona – A Complete Guide
Child custody laws in Arizona are similar to those across the country. In Flagstaff, Arizona, establishing a child custody agreement can take anywhere from several months up to a year (or longer). The details of each child custody case will determine how long it takes to establish a custody agreement. One of the most significant factors that will influence the time it takes to reach an agreement is the ability and willingness of each parent to work together.
When one or both parents cannot agree on a legal and physical custody arrangement in Arizona, it is considered a contested proceeding. It may require one or more evidentiary hearings or a trial. If you’re looking for a child custody lawyer to assist with your Arizona child custody case, it can be helpful to learn about the legal process so you can better understand what to expect and what will be required of you. Though every case is different, gathering as much information upfront can help you prepare yourself and your child for the process that lies ahead.
Different Types of Custody
In Arizona, child custody is split into two different categories that encompass what most people mean when they talk about child custody:
Legal decision-making: Legal decision-making in Arizona describes what most people mean when they refer to legal custody. Legal decision-making authority includes decisions about medical care, religious decisions, and other decisions that may substantially affect a child’s physical appearance.
Parenting time: In Arizona, the term parenting time replaces phrases such as physical custody and describes the amount of time a child will spend with each parent.
Courts in Flagstaff, Arizona, and across the state prefer parents to agree on legal decision-making and parenting time agreements. In all instances, the court’s goal is ensuring a settlement that is in the best interest of the child or children while maintaining, when appropriate, the relationship of each parent with the child/ren. When parents disagree on the terms or cannot reach an agreement, they may use dispute resolution methods such as mediation to reach an agreement and, if they still cannot agree, a judge will rule on legal decision-making and parenting time in a trial.
Legal Child Custody
In Arizona, legal child custody is referred to as legal decision-making and refers to the responsibility for making major decisions regarding the child or children’s care and welfare. Legal decision-making may be awarded to one parent (sole legal decision-making), both parents (joint legal decision-making), or it may be awarded to another qualified caretaker in certain custody disputes where there is no parent deemed fit. A parent who is not awarded joint or sole legal decision-making is still entitled to reasonable parenting time unless the court finds that the child would suffer physically, mentally, morally, or emotionally as a result.
Physical Child Custody
In Arizona, physical child custody is referred to as parenting time. In Arizona child custody cases, parenting time is established via a schedule which indicates when each parent has access to the child or children. Regardless of whether a parent has legal decision-making, they are responsible for providing shelter, food, and clothing and making routine decisions during their scheduled parenting time.
Joint Child Custody
Joint child custody is not a term used in the Arizona Revised Statutes. When someone refers to joint child custody, they may be speaking of a joint legal decision-making settlement. This arrangement means both parents share the decision-making responsibilities with neither holding a superior position or “final say” regarding specified decisions. In some states, joint child custody may also refer to a physical custody agreement where each parent enjoys approximately 50% of parenting time.
Primary Child Custody
If a child or children lives with one parent more than the other, this parent may be referred to as the primary custodian, primary residential parent, or the custodial parent. The other parent may be referred to as the non-custodial parent. Parenting time may be split 50/50, 60/40, 70/30, or in any other way that is deemed to be in the child’s best interest. Though a parent may have primary physical custody, legal decision-making (“legal custody”) may still be shared with the non-custodial parent.
Sole Child Custody
If a parent in Arizona is granted sole legal-decision making, they have the legal right and responsibility to make all major decisions about the child’s care and welfare. Although parents may discuss these decisions, the parent with sole legal decision-making is granted authority by the court to make the final decision.
When a parent is granted sole parenting time (or sole residential/physical custody) it means the child or children will live solely with that parent. The noncustodial parent may still enjoy some parenting time if it is in the child’s best interest. Sole physical custody may be appropriate for infants and younger children, when one parent travels frequently or has a work schedule that makes it difficult for children to live with them, or when parents live far apart and need a long-distance custody schedule. A parent may also be granted sole custody when the other parent has been deemed unfit due to substance abuse, mental health, criminal history, or if they have a history of abuse or neglect.
Factors Judges Account For During Child Custody Battles
Judges in Flagstaff, AZ, and across the state consider a number of factors when determining legal and physical child custody, including:
- The wishes of both parents and the children
- The children’s relationship with each parent and other children or family members in each household
- Each parent’s physical and mental health
- Each parents willingness to encourage a positive ongoing relationship with the other parent (where appropriate)
- Whether one parent has been the primary caregiver for the child or children in the past
- Convictions for drug abuse, DUIs, domestic abuse, and other legal issues
- If applicable, the child’s special needs
Your child custody attorney should work with you to identify any factors that may influence your child custody battle. In limited circumstances, Arizona also allows a person other than a legal parent to petition the court for legal or physical custody of a child. If one or more third parties are also involved in your child custody case, your child custody lawyer will work with you to prepare for each stage of the proceedings.
When you’re facing a child custody battle, your first impulse is likely to be “find the best child custody lawyers near me.” Even if you and the other parent are on friendly terms and are able to come to an agreement, you always want to be sure that you’re doing what’s best for your kids.
When you’re looking for nearby child custody lawyers in Flagstaff, AZ, Antol & Sherman PC can help. We know there’s nothing more important to you than your child’s wellbeing, and we’ll work with you to protect it and ensure your child’s best interests are at the center of what we do. Our team of child custody lawyers in Flagstaff, AZ, can help you resolve child custody and visitation disputes or obtain a modification to your existing child custody order. We also provide legal representation in child support cases.